Seymour’s Karen Dringenburg and Emma Wood have broken records, made school history and helped reshape the image of the Owls tennis program this season.
The path hasn’t been easy, and it will only grow tougher now that they’re center stage with the best in the state.
Tomorrow, Dringenburg and Wood face Culver Academy’s Amanda Padilla and Regina Padilla Llaguno in the No. 1 doubles state quarterfinals at Park Tudor in Indianapolis.
Wood, a junior, wasn’t even expected to play this tennis season after breaking her collarbone Feb. 17.
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“I broke it and had surgery a week later,” Wood said. “My doctor was saying I could maybe come back in May or June. I wasn’t even sure if I was going to play this season.
“His main goal was to get me back for the summer tournaments. The doctor was surprised how quickly it healed. The doctor was surprised and called me his superstar.”
Unable to use her right hand, her dominant side, Wood practiced with her left to continue to put time in on the court.
Wood returned to the Owls’ lineup May 2 and has played at No. 1 doubles with Dringenburg ever since.
The two are undefeated playing together in 2015.
Last year, Wood and Dringenburg teamed up at No. 1 doubles for the first time.
While it was the first time together in the varsity lineup, the two have played together since the sixth grade and have been friends ever since.
“We both played volleyball and basketball together for a little while so we kind of had the same movement already since we had played those sports,” Dringenburg said. “We got closer and kind of got a bond. We have great chemistry together which is important in doubles.”
Dringenburg, a senior, has played No. 1 doubles since her freshman year.
Before committing all her time to just tennis, Dringenburg played volleyball and basketball.
“I’ve always enjoyed the sport,” Dringenburg said. “During my sophomore year, during volleyball practice, I came out to watch the boys tennis sectionals. I watched just one point of it, and thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I should be out here managing this team and watching them play.’ That’s when I really fell in love with tennis.”
Dringenburg acted as the boys tennis manager the past two seasons and said she loves immersing herself in the sport and would be happy spending every day at the courts.
The tandem is 38-1 playing together over the past two years.
At regional last weekend, the Owls defeated Providence 6-0, 6-2 and Castle 6-1, 7-6 (3) in the championship.
With semistate and state champion No. 1 doubles teams now in the mix, the Owls will face stiff competition.
“We’re at the point now where everyone is going to be good,” Dringenburg said. “Every game is going to be tough. I think we can make it through Friday night and make it to the final four. My goal is to finish in the top four.”
If the Owls defeat Culver, they face the No. 1 seed, Carmel’s Emma Love and Lauryn Padgett, on Saturday in the semifinals.
Love and Padgett are undefeated in the postseason and were a part of the Carmel state championship team that defeated Munster last weekend.
The championship doubles match will be at 2 p.m. Saturday.
“They really need to make sure that they’re doing the little things correctly,” Owls co-coach Jennifer Miller said. “Making sure that their service game doesn’t get broken, allow points to get strung together against them, being aggressive at the net.
“First and foremost we expect them to have fun and enjoy the state tournament. It’s something that no one has done from here in doubles. We also do feel like the girls can play with Culver Academy on Friday and are comparable to them as a team. We feel the girls can definitely do this and get to Saturday. One match at a time is going to be our focus.”
In recent matches, Dringenburg and Wood have relied on a solid first-serve percentage and strong net play to pick up victories.
Both girls said they need to stay aggressive at the net to advance to Saturday.
The girls can rally at the baseline but don’t want to rely on ground strokes to win points.
“They need to have confidence and believe in themselves,” Owls coach Nathan Otte said. “They need to be the team that’s in control. As long as they take control of their side of the net, and not get too loose in their positioning and shots, they should really fare well.”
While Dringenburg and Wood have made waves this season, Otte wants to see the girls reach their fullest potential at state.
“Really, for me, I would like to see the girls both play at their highest levels together,” Otte said. “We’ve had three or four tough matches this year where one of the players has stepped up and the other one had a solid match. If they can both come out and play at their highest level that would be nice to see.”
At the regional, a number of Seymour residents came to support the duo. Almost 25 people cheered on the Owls at Bedford North Lawrence High School.
“I think I’m just excited most of the atmosphere from the people coming from Seymour,” Dringenburg said. “Everyone has been coming up to me and giving me calls congratulating us. It’s been amazing.”
Win or lose this weekend, Otte feels the team has made a difference for the Owls’ athletics program.
“We’re really proud of not just what they’ve accomplished, but what they represent for Seymour High School athletics and the community,” Otte said. “That’s probably the biggest accomplishment: how they carry themselves. They’re good role models for their teammates and the younger girls coming up.”
Girls tennis state doubles tournament
Who: Seymour’s Karen Dringenburg and Emma Wood vs. Culver Academies’ Amanda Padilla and Regina Padilla Llaguno.
Where: Park Tudor School
When: 2 p.m. Friday
Admission: $5 per person a day
When: 10 a.m. Saturday
Who: Carmel’s Emma Love and Lauryn Padgett vs. winner of Seymour/Culver Academies
When: 2 p.m. Saturday